The nation's busy but easy-going capital, Bridgetown, is one of the oldest cities in the Caribbean with enough to interest the visitor for a few hours. Its architecture blends attractive, balconied colonial buildings with warehouses and brash modern office blocks. The centre of activity is the Careenage, a marina bordered by the Barbadian parliament (home to two small but fascinating local history museums). A number of the island's major religious buildings are located within five minutes' walk of parliament, including St Michael's Cathedral and a synagogue, both standing on the same sites since the mid-seventeenth century.
Just north of the city, a couple of rum factories are open for tours, while Tyrol Cot is an unusual nineteenth-century house that was home to two of the island's leading post war politicians, Sir Grantley Adams and his son Tom Adams. Southeast lies the historic Garrison area where the British Empire maintained its Caribbean military headquarters from 1780 to 1905 – its huge grassy savanna, today a racecourse and public park, was once the army's parade ground. The ranks of brightly coloured military buildings around its edge include the excellent Barbados Museum.
Barbados, the easternmost Caribbean Island, has the advantage of being just outside of hurricane range, for the most part. Decidedly British and sophisticated, Barbados is a beautiful island, surrounded by white sandy beaches and azure water. The interior is still filled with acre upon acre of sugar cane, and the cane-growing season is an important part of the local culture.
Decidedly, it is a wonderful juxtaposition of two cultures; the natives and the tourists. While cosmopolitan travelers jet off to Barbados from the UK on the Concorde for a day at the races, the local residents can still be seen toiling over a sugar cane harvest and celebrating the yearly bounty at a festival called Crop Over .
Once a major mercantile center, rivaled only by some U.S. East Coast cities, Barbados is more important these days to the immediate Caribbean region than to the world at large. It is here that major government agencies are located for the region, and abroad. For example, the US Ambassador for the Eastern Caribbean makes his home here, and Caribbean people must go through that office to gain entry to the US. Other countries maintain embassies here as well, such as France, Australia, Venezuela and China.
With good airline services, a wide range of accommodations and many restaurants, Barbados is a comfortable place to visit. It's a relatively flat island, coral rather than volcanic in origin. The tourist services are very well developed. Compared to some other islands, roads are well signed (and paved) and tourist sites abound. With a highly evolved Barbados National Trust, the island has created many spectacular sites and restored many old buildings to their original splendor.
Following with the British tradition, cricket matches and horse races at The Garrison are a sight to see. There are also many Anglican churches and beautiful gardens on the island, in keeping with their English heritage.
At the same time, Barbados is decidedly West Indian, and Bajans, as they call themselves, enjoy West Indian cuisine and entertainment, as does the rest of the Caribbean. With more than 260,000 people living on its 166 square miles, Barbados has a somewhat diverse economy. Tourism, of course is the greatest source of income for the island. Sugar products, mainly rum and molasses, are its major export, along with other agricultural products. There is also some light manufacturing that supports the gross national product. A visit to Bridgetown is a good indicator of how Barbados has developed into a bustling commercial center, creating substantial employment for its residents.
The cuisine of Barbados can be gourmet as well as Caribbean in flavor. A national delicacy, the flying fish, is served throughout the island using a variety of recipes. Other indigenous dishes include golden apple relish (made from a local apple-like fruit), cou-cou made from cornmeal and okra, and pepperpot stew.
The South and West Coasts are the areas most developed for tourism. The South Coast features wonderful white sand beaches, lively hotels, and many restaurants and nightspots. It is quite easy to find acceptable and affordable accommodations here. There are also some exquisite places to stay, and a few that are historic landmarks. The South Coast tends to display moderately rough surf in some places, attracting surfers and accomplished windsurfers. The calmer beaches are along the West Coast near the hotels. The East Coast, while boasting a majestic rocky coastline, is not for swimming.
While Barbados' one-time sugar economy has waned, today the island produces fine Sea Island cotton, tropical flowers, and livestock. It also is able to generate about 60 percent of its own oil from oil wells found throughout the island. Duty-free shopping is also a booming business on the island.
A visit to Barbados definitely allows one to step back in time. Its history is evident everywhere. A visit to the Barbados Museum and the Historical Society's wonderful homes, like Tyrol Cot and Heritage Village, serves to exemplify the historical significance of the 1800s and 1900s.
The range of activities here is endless: from fabulous golf courses and beaches , to great windsurfing , surfing , scuba diving , and hiking. There are several amazing caves to explore, and old plantations to visit. There are luxury villas and hotels for those that prefer the upper end as well as affordable, comfortable accommodations for the bargain hunters. In Barbados, there's something for everyone.
The choice of dining options in Barbados is practically endless. From fine dining to fast foods, the slew of restaurants is one of the most varied in the Caribbean. Here you can find seafood restaurants, steak houses, world-wide ethnic specialties, contemporary continental cuisine, lively bistros, and eateries specializing in Caribbean foods.
A melting pot of flavors, there are Italian and French restaurants, and some specifically Bajan places that serve planter's lunches, as well as snapper, mahi-mahi, and Arawak pepperpot soup. But they also have their fair share of Japanese and Mediterranean options and unique breakfast venues, places for tea, and other beach bars for fun and snacks. And, keeping up with the times, there is a selection of vegetarian restaurants.
Dining out in Barbados is an event and in high season, it is a good idea to make reservations in advance, or at least inquire to see if they are necessary. Many of the restaurants are quaint, intimate places and seating can be limited. Taxi service is available island-wide during dinner hours, so those who are worried about finding their way home can easily arrange for this type of transport. Some restaurants list prices in US currency, others in Barbados dollars. To convert to US, divide the Bajan dollars roughly in half. Also, it is often the custom to present the bill to diners only when they ask for it.
Many of the restaurants here have been touted by the likes of Gourmet Magazine and Bon Appetite, and chefs have received star after star in their ratings. In other words, dieting in Barbados is usually not an option.
Beginning in Speightstown on the West Coast is Mango's—by the Sea , a delightful restaurant right on the water serving grilled lobsters and steaks with delicious homemade desserts. The historic Cobblers Cove Hotel has a exciting restaurant featuring award-winning chefs and features special buffets and live music on some nights. In St. James, The Lone Star provides seafront dining and also features a caviar and cigar lounge.
There are numerous other fine restaurants in the St. James area, among them the Coral Reef Club , the Sandpiper , the Club House Restaurant at Royal Westmoreland, and the Ile de France . In nearby Holetown, there's Sakura Restaurant , serving Japanese cuisine, and Olive's Bar & Bistro , which is located in an old Bajan building. There's also the Townhouse Restaurant and Bar , Angry Annie's for drinks and/or dinner, and Ragamuffins , located in an old wooden chattel house. Another notable spot in the area is La Terra , which has a seaside restaurant and nightclub.
In Bridgetown, there are several excellent places, including The Waterfront Cafe , which serves flying fish and other local dishes in addition to providing jazz music, and the South Deck at Carlisle Bay, where the yachting set hang out.
Along the South Coast, and particularly in lively St. Lawrence Gap, there are dozens of places to eat. Josef's is owned by the man of the same name who has left his Austrian heritage to create a menu that highlights popular Caribbean delicacies. David's Place in St. Lawrence Gap focuses on plenty of fresh fish. Eat amid the twinkling lights strung along the waterfront at Pisces or at Bellini's Trattoria , where you can see the moonlight glisten on the sea. There's also The Garden Restaurant at the Southern Palms Beach Club , which has many West Indian dishes.
The St. James Parish has a bounty of restaurants, including the sister restaurants Fathoms and Carambola , located across the bay from each other. Carambola is the more elegant of the two, combining Caribbean, Asian and French cuisines. Fathoms specializes in local seafood. Alternatively, dine at The Cliff , which is appropriately perched above the oceanfront. The Restaurant at Sandy Lane is located at the well-known Sandy Lane Golf Course, with its renowned Sunday buffet. There's evening entertainment as well as good food at Treasure Beach in Paynes Bay.
Located in a grand plantation home is the Bagatelle Great House in St. Thomas, where the Caribbean Art Gallery is housed, and the food is well recommended. Il Tempio Italian Restaurant & Beach Bar has been touted by Pavarotti himself, and is excellent for a romantic dinner.
Because of its English street names and places remaining from British rule, Barbados is the only Caribbean island known as "Little Britain." It beckons visitors to its relaxing sandy beaches, ultra blue waters and quiet lifestyle. Barbados houses the famous Harrison Caves and the retired Concorde that sits majestically at the airport museum.
Harrison Caves The Harrison Caves have undergone recent renovation to ensure that they remain Barbados' number-one tourist attraction. This limestone cavern hosts some of the most unique stalagmites and stalactites seen in the Caribbean. Visitors ride around on an electric tram to assist the preservation of the subterranean environment. Natural oils from human skin can slow or even stop the formation of these magnificent structures, so no touching is allowed. The caves are full of unexpected delights, such as waterfalls and lakes, which enhance this spectacular and mysterious natural wonder. The Caves are located in the middle of the island at the somewhat Gothic-looking Anglican church of St. Thomas Parish. Nearby are the two plantation homes of Bagatelle Great House and Fisherpond Great House , where visitors can stop for a meal. After filling up, head to the sheltered valley area of the Welchman Hall Gulley to be stunned by a spectacular tropical garden. You can also witness the 18th-century European architecture of the Sharon Moravian Church in this area.
Crane Beach Not all Caribbean beaches are created equally, as seen by the breathtaking Crane Beach , prouly declared one of the world's best beaches. Not too far away is the majestic Crane Resort that offers sumptuous Caribbean dining and incredible panoramic sea-views. Close by you can tour the Heritage Park & Rum Factory , a restored sugar refinery, and animal-lovers can indulge in the Oughterson Zoo Park located on a plantation area of 22 acres. If you're interested in a serene experience, the nearby East Point Lighthouse situated at Rugged Point offers picturesque views of the southern coast.
Crop Over Barbados's culture comes to life in the annual carnival celebration known as the Crop Over Festival that takes place in Bridgetown during the summer months and lasts for about five weeks. Thousands of revelers fill the streets, masquerading and dancing to steel-pan and music trucks that play the latest in calypso. Mount Gay Rum also has its base in this area and welcomes visitors to see how Bajan rum is made. When the gaiety is over, head to the impressive, coral-stoned St. Michael's Cathedral amid the downtown hustle and bustle. Just across the road is the Fountain in Heroes Square that commemorates the first piped water in the capital. Further afield you'll spot the Harry Bayley Observatory , the only one of its kind in the eastern Caribbean.
Sunbury Plantation House The Sunbury Plantation House is a fully-restored colonial mansion open to the public with guided tours allowing visitors to step back in time to view the opulence of a wealthy plantation house first-hand. The famous Georgian mansion known as Sam Lord's Castle is also nearby and impressively set on 72 acres of tropical land. The close-by L'Azure restaurant serves sumptuous seafood at their convincing location on the oceanfront cliff. Beaches in the area include the Crane , Harrismith, and Bottom Bay ; but if you prefer, you can take a dive in the swimmingpool at the Kendal Sporting Club, where you can also take part in archery and even paint balling. Harbour Lights In the evening, the Harbour Lights beachfront show takes culture and music to another level, as does the famous Tropical Spectacular Bajan Roots and Rhythms show located close by. During the day, the verdant Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary offers a great eco-tourist destination complete with a mangrove, or you can wander through the dazzling Ocean Park marine aquarium. For adults, the Barbados Golf Club offers three courses to tee off, and with the entertainment hot spot of St. Lawrence Gap just in the area, party-goers are spoiled for choice when it comes to nightlife, clubs and, of course, an abundance of restaurants to eat at, including David's Place and Bubba's Sports Bar . Known simply as "the Gap", this lively, vibrant stretch is the perfect destination for dancing, drinking and parties.
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